British Culture in Children’s Literature: The Horrid Henry Series

horrid henry

Why are children’s literature written? Is the purpose only to amuse children or are there any other specific reasons that the author is trying to deliver? 

Many people in the world enjoy reading children’s literature. With easy words, colorful illustrations, and a moral lesson or two, people can effortlessly finish one in less than an hour. One might say that the main motive of these works of literature is to entertain especially little children who are on their early stage of reading. However, turns out there is more to it than a mere enjoyment. When looked deeply, they can strongly represent a culture, starting from small everyday things like eating or drinking to big important ones. In this piece of writing, I want to specifically discuss how the children’s literature, the Horrid Henry series, represents the British culture.

Horrid Henry is a children’s book series written by a British author, Francesca Simon. The series now has 25 titles published worldwide and has been adapted for television, the big screen (in the form of a live action movie), as well as theatres across the globe. In Britain, the Horrid Henry series is well-known and loved by children to adults of all ages. Since the people there are required to read from a young age, the Horrid Henry series are what junior (elementary) school students usually go for as beginners. This is because the stories in the series are simple yet captivatingly hilarious, compelling the readers to find out what the main character is going to do next. In addition to that, the illustrations by Tony Ross are the perfect companion to the book, making it more enjoyable. But even with all its charms, the Horrid Henry series has yet to reach Indonesian children. Only very few children, and even adults, know about them. 

First published in 1994 and continuing until 2019, the Horrid Henry series tells the story of a young naughty boy—hence the name ‘Horrid’—and his daily life as a child living in Britain surrounded by a diverse cast of friends and families. This, of course, inevitably gives us readers an insight of the life the British people have, which naturally relates to their culture. In this writing, there are three British cultures that I am going to highlight and talk about: the British house or English house, which includes the house itself as well as its gardens; the British food mentioned in the series; and the tea, both the drink as well as the meal.

British House

The house where Henry lives in is a typical traditional British house, which can easily be found across Britain. It is located in Ashton, a market town in Greater Manchester, England. It’s a house of the semi-detached kind, which means that it’s connected side-by-side with its neighboring house. Henry’s house itself shares one common wall with Moody Margaret’s house. 

His house has both a front garden and a backyard. In Britain, it is common for houses to have gardens either at the front or at the back. The front garden is usually used to park cars because just like Henry’s house, most of the British houses do not have garages. Therefore, the leftover small front part of their houses is used for parking. Even if they do have garages, they are commonly used more for storage rather than car park. This is because the British houses are generally built in the 1900s, when cars hardly existed. If they do not have a front garden, the British would park their cars outside of their house areas, in the streets. 

As for the backyard, it is mostly used for gardening and sometimes holding events such as parties and barbeques. Gardening is a huge part of the British culture. One can say that British people are somewhat obsessed with gardening since this particular activity is done more than any other leisure activities. I think this is due to the great climate of the UK that makes plants grow successfully, thus motivating the British to plant more. It also relates to their history in the middle ages, when gardens became really important to the British life due to the need of medicinal herbs and food plants. The tradition is then passed down from one generation to the next. Gardening in Britain is enjoyed not only by adults, but children as well. Schools in Britain even have a specific schedule to teach students gardening.

The next thing is the house itself. The traditional British house is generally small in size. Perhaps this is due to the country being small as well, so the British do not require a lot of space for living. The houses are built of orange bricks or stones, making them strong and able to withstand a lot of bad weather. 

In the series, Henry’s house has a purple door and a window to the left of it whilst his next-door neighbor Margaret has a blue door also with a window beside it. From the front, the layout of the houses are very much similar, just like the traditional houses in Britain. The types and size, too, are the same. The only difference is the colors of the doors. Beside the door is a very large window—a signature of the traditional British house—so that people living in the house can enjoy natural light and feel warm since it is normally freezing there, especially in the mornings. 

Upon entering the house, the first thing we would come across to is the hall. It is basically a small room to welcome people in. The British use this to hang their coats and keep their umbrellas and shoes. The staircase also usually occupies this area. In traditional British houses, instead of using wood or ceramic, the floor is usually carpeted in almost every part of the house including the hall. Like the window, this is also because of the warmth the carpet gives.

A standard British house does not have too many rooms, but it has all the necessary ones. The ground floor—or the first floor—usually consists of a living room and a kitchen (which is also used as a dining room) whereas the first floor—or the second floor—consists of bedrooms and bathrooms. 

The living room is the coziest place in the house. Usually heated with a fireplace, the traditional British living room is decorated with eye-catching wallpaper. Additionally, the British style is to mix and match, therefore it is not surprising to find a lot of different colors and textures in one place. 

As for the kitchen, it is one of the most essential rooms of the traditional British house. Other than the fact that it serves as a dining room in most houses, the kitchen is where the British make their foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is quite simple, only consisting of the basics: kitchen counters, cupboards, a stove with an oven under it, a sink, and a fridge.  In the Horrid Henry series, the kitchen is the largest room in the house located at the back with a door connecting to the garden. This layout is common for British houses. I reckon it allows easy access when there are events being held in their backyard. 

Moving on to the first floor, the bedrooms are generally long and narrow. The number of bedrooms should be adjusted to how many children a family has. A child must have their own bedroom. This is why in the Horrid Henry series, the house has three bedrooms: one for Henry, one for his little brother, and one for his parents. 

British Food

The next thing I want to talk about is the British food culture. There are a few foods the British have as their signature dish, but the particular classic British food represented in the Horrid Henry series is fish fingers and chips (French fries). This dish is mentioned several times, one of them being in the 23rd book; Horrid Henry’s Krazy Ketchup when Henry was looking for the ketchup (tomato sauce) and his dad was “opening the oven and taking out the fish fingers and chips”. 

Fish fingers—or just fish—and chips is the national dish of Britain. Just like its name, the dish consists of fish that has been covered in batter and deep fried until it becomes crispy, and then served with chips on the side. The two main ingredients for this dish were introduced by immigrants. Combined, it made a culinary fusion. The dish was invented in the 17th century when potatoes were a cheap, staple food. It is also mentioned in another source that at first, the chips were actually a substitute for fish, not a complimentary food, due to the drying of the rivers in Britain. 

The first fish and chips shop in the UK to open was in Cleveland Street in 1860 by a Jewish immigrant, Joseph Malin. In Britain, fish and chips is eaten on Fridays (schools only serve fish and chips on Fridays and at home the British have fish and chips for dinner, for it is a tradition that meat should not be eaten on that specific day. This belief comes from the Roman Catholic and is still being held by the people). Now, fish and chips shops are all over Britain. They are one of the most delicious yet affordable take-away dishes there.

Tea

The last British culture represented in the series is tea. Tea in Britain can mean two things: the drink and the light meal in-between lunch and dinner. Both are equally important. In the Horrid Henry Complete Collection, there is a scene where Henry is taken to work by Dad. Henry is then asked by Dad’s boss to serve some drink for a few guests—and you can already guess what kind of drink he fixes for them. It’s tea. 

The British love their tea. According to the Tea and Infusions Organisation, approximately 100 million cups of tea is drunk by the British every day. The first tea ever brought to Britain came from the East India Company in the early 17th century. At that time, tea was considered a luxurious herb, making it expensive and only the rich could afford. As time went by, the price of tea gradually decreased and the middle-class British society were able to get their hands on it. 

The tea time culture was first introduced to Britain by the wife of Charles II, Princess Catherine of Braganza in the 1660s. By the mid-19th century (1840), the ‘afternoon-tea’ concept emerged, introduced by Anna, the Duchess of Bedford. She was hungry one afternoon, but it’s already too late for lunch and too early for dinner. The Duchess eventually asked one of her maids to bring her a cup of tea, some cake, and bread to her room in a tray. Since then on, this became a habit and to make herself feel less alone, she invited some of her friends along. The variety of treats soon expanded too, ranging from sandwiches to scones. 

Due to it being a custom for the high-class, there is a certain etiquette a person must follow when drinking tea using a cup and saucer. The manner of drinking tea is now still followed by the British, especially those in the royal family. 

From the discussion above, we can conclude that the Horrid Henry series represents much of the British culture: from the house in which the people live, complete with the front and back garden; the food, especially the national food fish and chips; to the drink, that is the tea. By putting some of the British cultures into the story, I believe the author, Francesca Simon, has written the Horrid Henry series not only to make the readers experience enjoyment and pleasure from Henry’s shenanigans, but also to give an insight of the culture that the story stems from.

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